Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter last night that 6 planeloads of equipment that Tesla just flew from Germany to California are indeed robots from Grohmann. Don’t envision Westworld-like robots occupying all the seats in a jumbo jet, enjoying the latest movie. These are automated assembly systems for the Gigafactory to solve the last problems with battery module assembly. For over half a year, it is known that the biggest hurdle to ramping the Model 3 production is unexpected limitations of the battery assembly line.
Complacent with their expertise in their core competency — making the best automotive battery packs in the world — Tesla failed to notice that the state 4 station was FUBAR. You can blame the sub-sub-contractor who built it. But the principal responsibility for discovering this in time is Tesla’s and nobody else’s.
Tesla did miss a lot of revenue by not being able to produce the Model 3 in the volumes it needed. The company would have had delays form other parts of the assembly line, but none were reportedly as blocking as this issue.
In some comments in the media about flights of equipment from Germany to the US, it was suggested that money was not an issue for Tesla. Nothing is further from the truth. As is normal in industrial blocking issues, money is the primary driver for the speed with which the problem is solved. And if an airlift for an assembly line saves weeks in ramping production, the cost of the airlift disappears compared to the lost revenue from not producing cars. It makes clear that Cash is King for the bean counters, planners, and managers at Tesla.
This explains why the shutdown of the assembly line in Fremont, California, is happening now and not last week or next week. The date was set based on the time this robot army for Sparks, Nevada, was ready to airlift. There will now be teams of engineers all over the line for small and big improvements to the speed of the line and the quality of the cars.
The unusual openness of Tesla in their handling of these production problems gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the planning and logistics of a large production organization that is very rare.
And that Tesla chose to airlift these robots signals that they think this can unlock production capacity to the 4,000/week to 6,000/week regions for the Model 3. If something else was holding up production, they could have given these robots marching orders to go by road and ship and take the 3 to 6 week scenic route from Germany to Nevada, as their preceding party that solved other battery production line issues did.
And as usual, the rumors of Tesla’s demise are grossly exaggerated.
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